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Environment: how green is your cargo?

A standard methodology to measure air freight carbon footprint

The new IATA Recommended Practice 1678 for CO2 Emissions Measurement Methodology (pdf) has been adopted by the Cargo Services Conference last March. Having one common international standard for air cargo was a requirement from airlines themselves and from some of their customers. This standard will help airlines, freight forwarders, shippers, regulators and any other parties to “speak the same language” and is in line with the aviation’s commitment for Carbon Neutral Growth by 2020.

Towards global harmonization

In order to pursue the efforts towards global harmonization of measurement methodologies, IATA started discussing with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), seeking their endorsement of the Recommended Practice 1678. As ICAO developed a methodology to calculate the carbon dioxide emissions from air transport of passengers for use in offset programs, it is therefore important to have a standard for air cargo that is supported by both IATA and ICAO.

When making their modal choice, shippers and freight forwarders are looking at comparability in terms of speed, pricing, quality of service, etc. As the environmental aspects started to enter into their equation,  harmonizing the methods for carbon footprint calculations across all modes at a global level became necessary. This is the mission of the new Global Logistics Emissions Council (GLEC), powered by Smart Freight Center. GLEC’s strategy is to create a network of coordinated modal action groups, and IATA has being invited to be the leader of the Air working group. This will help making the new Recommended Practice the standard adopted by all parties in the supply chain.

Standidarzing carbon footprint reporting

As the first requirements came from major customers such as Kuehne+Nagel, DB Schenker and DGF – which formed the Airfreight Carbon Initiative - , IATA engaged them right after the adoption of the standard methodology. The main purpose of meeting was to discuss and agree on the next steps as far as CO2 reporting is concerned. Both airlines and freight forwarders agreed to pursue the dialogue and collaboration.

This agreement will translate into the development of a standard CO2 reporting format for air cargo. It will help airlines to receive similar requests from their customers, and airfreight customers to rely on one reporting scheme and set of information. Such standardization will reduce costs on both sides and increase transparency.

Leading the way to improve environmental performance

Airlines should indeed communicate better with their airfreight customers on their efforts to improve environmental performance. Aviation is the first industry to have ambitious global goals for reducing the climate impact of its operations, which currently contribute 2% of man-made CO2 emissions.

Since the first jet aircraft, airlines continuously improved their fuel efficiency. The latest reporting exercise showed that airlines reduced their fuel consumption by 1.9% in 2013 compared to 2012. Since 2009, the average improvement in fuel efficiency is 2% per year. This is due to massive investments from airlines to renew their fleet, reduce weight on board of their aircrafts (with the use of lightweight containers for instance), develop sustainable biofuels, etc.


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